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GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams


Welcome to the world of GNU/Linux, liberating the computing desktop from the shackles of proprietary interests.

The aim of this book is to get you up to speed with GNU/Linux and to deliver a fun and productive environment. It guides you through the many different regions of a GNU/Linux system with a focus on getting your desktop environment to do what you want it to do. It is comprehensive with basic support for the user who installs and maintains the system themselves (whether in the home, office, club, or school). It provides insights and step-by-step procedures that deal with specific tasks in setting your system up and maintaining it. The book covers many of the core features of a GNU/Linux system and you will gain the knowledge to enjoy and use one of the most comprehensive and useful developments in the history of computing.

The details in this book are presented in the context of Debian GNU/Linux--the most open of the GNU/Linux distributions and the distribution setting the standards for free (as in liberty) software and collaborative developments. In general the details translate directly to Red Hat and other standard distributions of GNU/Linux. A growing number of the applications (including OpenOffice, AbiWord, The Gimp, Dia and gPhoto, to name just a few) are cross-platform developments and run also under MS/Windows. The chapters that cover these applications in this book will also generally apply to those versions.

The structure of this on-line version of the book is basically alphabetical. Each individual chapter aims to be a standalone reference. The book includes an overview of GNU/Linux and its history, a guide to installing GNU/Linux, introductions to the suite of GNU/Linux desktop productivity tools, and recipes for tuning specific parts of a GNU/Linux system.

The book begins with an introduction to the world of GNU/Linux, Free/Libre Open Source Software (as in liberty or free speech, not price or free beer), and the Free and Open Source Software movement. Software covers computer applications that equal, and often surpass, the commercial offerings of the same or equivalent functionality. However, the freedom we are talking about here is more the freedom to choose between the offerings, not necessarily the lack of a purchase fee for the software.

In this book we present historical and philosophical perspectives. Chapter 3 briefly reviews GNU/Linux, the various distributions, the licensing issues, and the freedom that GNU/Linux delivers, and the considerable attack on our freedom represented by software patents and the incredible invested interests and wealth behind the push for software patents.

There are many ways of obtaining GNU/Linux and we only cover the most common approaches. Chapter 4 provides an overview of installing Debian with detailed examples for a number of hardware platforms. Chapter 5 is a brief introduction to some of the essential GNU/Linux utilities that you are likely to come across soon. The Debian packaging system used to manage (and take all of the hard work out of maintaining) packages is described in Chapter 3.5. Setting up the X Window System is covered in Chapter 102. By this stage you will have a system ready to take full advantage of. On a more technical level Chapter 50 shows how simple it is to compile your own kernel to suit your hardware requirements.

The remaining alphabetical chapters cover the Desktop Environment and Debian GNU/Linux administration.

All of the major classes of desktop tools are covered, including word processing, spreadsheets, personal information management, graphics, databases and, of course, games. Also included are chapters covering some of the tools for developers, including emacs and glade. The aim is to set you well on the road to using these tools at a level that is sufficient for many users. Of course, each tool itself deserves, and often has available for it, a book or extensive manuals.

The administration chapters cover very many different topics that let you tune your GNU/Linux system to suit your needs. Not everything here is relevant to everybody, but it brings together many recipes for many of the typical tasks that users sometimes need to know about, again without going into exhaustive detail (which is available elsewhere if you need it or are interested).

So sit back and cherish the liberty of free software and become part of the community that is making computers and the applications they run a benefit to society world wide, rather than a costly privilege.

Conventions Used Throughout The Book


Screen shots from the Firefox web browser are based on Firefox at 700x600.

What's In A Name

The phrase Microsoft Windows (and less informatively just Windows) usually refers to the whole of the popular operating systems, irrespective of which version of Microsoft Windows is being run, unless the version is important. But Microsoft Windows is just one of many windowing systems available, and indeed, Microsoft Windows came on to the screen rather later than the pioneering Apple Macintosh windowing system and the Unix windowing systems. We will simply refer to all varieties of Microsoft's windowing systems (Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP) as MS/Windows. If the particular version is important it will be referred to as MS/Windows/XP, for example.

We use the phrase GNU/Linux to refer to the GNU environment and the GNU and other applications running in that environment on top of the Linux operating system kernel. Similarly, GNU/Hurd refers to the GNU environment and the GNU and other applications running in that environment on top of the GNU Hurd operating system kernel.

Debian is a complete distribution which includes many applications based around a particular choice of operating system kernel (usually either GNU/Linux or GNU/Hurd). Where the particular kernel is not important we will refer to whole system as Debian.

The common windowing system used in Debian is a separate, but integral, component that we will refer to as the X Window System.

Screen Shots

Through out the document screen shots are presented using a variety of Gnome and KDE themes. The theme specifies what things look like inside the windows that an application displays, and now also tend to specify what the window frame looks like--that is, the area immediately surrounding the application's window. There is an endless variety of themes to suit your own preferences. Some favourites include the E-efm-GTK+ Gnome theme and the QN-X11 and Crux window themes. Refer to the discussion of themes in Chapter 96 for details, if interested.

About This Book

The book is copyright by the author ([email protected]). Please feel free to contribute to the book in any way, by sending corrections, comments, updates, suggestions, or even whole new chapters, to me at [email protected].


The following web pages provide links into this book:


Lastly, but by no means least, there are many people to thank.

Many Debian and GNU/Linux folk have contributed directly and indirectly to this book, with snippets from email messages and discussion group postings and directly to me.

Also, financial support for maintenance of the book is always welcome. Financial support is used to contribute toward the costs of running the web pages and the desktop machine used to make this book available. I acknowledge the financial support of many readers.

The following have contributed to the content of the book in one way or another: Damien McAullay started that Chapter on Oracle 10g and others provided suggestions, including Roy Bixler, Mark Bucciarelli, Eduardo Diaz Comellas, Giuseppe Sacco, Oliver Bankel, Daniel Hofstetter, Gopal Mukkamala, and Hans Schou. Damien McAullay provided the initial information on the iPod. John Maindonald helped with understanding R and providing some of the R insights here. Rohinton Kazak fixed many typos. Vincent McIntyre provided information on the installation of the machine I've called Vince (104.17). Thomas Lester, Raj Nair, Marcelo E. Magallon, Lanny Godsey, Roberto Sanchez, Damien McAullay, Christian Kaske, Yoshiro Mihira, Jason Burrell, Bob Bownes, Peter Lamb, Dirk Eddelbuettel, Dean Jackson, Karsten Self, Shaul Karl, Ethan Benson, John Flinchbaugh, Nathan Norman, Noah L. Meyerhans, Manoj Srivastava, Colin Watson, and many others have provided insights and comments that have been incorporated somewhere in the book. Thanks.

Contributions from the following are acknowledged: Donald Charbonneau, Guido Ursoleo, James Farkas, Iain Starks, Margaret Harris, Stefan Ziegenbalg, Michael Vishchers, Rene Van den Broeck, Wade Thunborg, Kenneth Piehl, Myles Keogh, Ronald Emerson, Zachary Taylor, Antonio Rodulfo, Dorene A Gilyard, Wayne Ficke, Kenneth Caldwell, Octonet.biz, Michael Viets, David McQuie, Carpe Diem Global Solutions, Robert De Waal, Steve Wainwright, Martin Bonsoir, Tim W Farrington, Neil Redgate, Rodrigo Athie, Derick Mugambi, Chris Galley, Michael Meeks, Chun-Chee Yiu, Alberto Penaforte, Annette Y Joyce, Fernando Valenzuela, Julian Leslie, Robert March, Linda Arvin, Richard White, Jose de Jesus Rodriguez Limon, Michael Brown, Mona Habib, David Joseph, Rubina Jiwani, James Homuth, Bretzel Enterprises, Michael Davis, Martyn Armitage, Stephen Lord, Michael O'Neill, Arto Keiski, Ted Shen, Robert Stryk, Graham Sheward, Mariarosaria Durevole, Dr Stephen Riley, Richard Chandler, Sean Moore, Luciano Bartoli, Peter Flynn, Carroll Collins, Jim B Belcher, David Bush, Kaj Hansen, Michael Bush, Osman Kemal Kadiroglu, Guido Zijlstra, Declan McLaughlin, James Scanlan, Joseph Lukes, Outi Korpela, Tobias Bo Hansen, John Modeste, Girish Haran, Donald Stevens, Charles Ahrens, Magnus Larsson, Ambrose Andrews, Donald Marshall, David Burgess, M D Dawson, Hayden Armstrong, Tobias Hagberg, James Aiu, Kelleys Computer Services, Mogens Hafsjold, Göran Emilsson, Michael Cooper, Richard Horsley, Robert W Harrington, William Oldham, Asad Hewlett, John Budke, Colin Wantling, Peter Wyckoff, Dimitri Moonen, Charles Catlett, Farimah Fleschute, James Prince Serna, Patrick Frejborg, Arthur E Travis Jr, Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, Prasanna Kumar, Dunham Williams, Marian Radulescu, R Monz, Haukur Matthiasson, Peter Westlake, Paul Vannitsem, Dagur Gunnarsson, Mike Kranidis, College of Engineering at Montana State University, Ernest J Visser, Matthew Reynolds, Jerry Novetsky, Mariano S. Tanenglian, Jr., Robert Milam, and Robert Weggler.

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